How Tottenham have tried and tried again to stop The Arsenal

This article repeats a little of the article on Henry Norris and the Southern League.  I have included the info about the start of the Southern League again, so you don’t have to keep zipping backwards and forwards.  If you know about the Southern League bit, just skim down the page.


It all started in 1891.

In 1891 Woolwich Arsenal was formed as a professional club.  The FA then told everyone not to play them, because of the professional issues, and Arsenal were reduced to playing friendlies against northern teams.

So in 1891 Arsenal called a meeting to discuss the idea of a southern league 26 clubs attended, the new league was agreed and 12 clubs elected:

  • Chatham,
  • Luton Town,
  • Millwall Athletic,
  • Marlow,
  • Swindon Town,
  • Reading,
  • West Herts,
  • Ilford,
  • Woolwich Arsenal,
  • Chiswick Park,
  • Old St Marks
  • Crouch End.

Crouch End then withdrew.  One of the unsuccessful applicants was Tottenham H who got one vote (their own).

There were several more attempts to form the Southern League and in 1894 the  Southern League, proposed by Millwall Athletic (which became Millwall) finally got going with two divisions.

Division 1

  • Chatham
  • Clapton
  • Ilford
  • Luton Town
  • Millwall Athletic
  • Reading
  • Royal Ordnance Factories
  • Southampton St Mary
  • Swindon Town

Division 2

  • Bromley
  • Chesham
  • Maidenhead
  • New Brompton
  • Old St Stephen’s
  • Sheppy United
  • Uxbridge

You will note there was no Tottenham H.  What they were up to can be best quoted (so there is no argument of bias) from their official Tiny Totts web site

Spurs adopt professionalism.

A record crowd of 6,000 spectators watch the friendly match with Aston Villa. Spurs elected to the Southern League Division One. Club colours changed to chocolate and gold.

We reach our first Cup Final, losing 0-2 to hosts Wellingborough in the local Charity Cup competition.

The Club becomes a limited company and a match against Woolwich Arsenal attracts a record crowd of 14,000 spectators.

[end of quote from the Tinies web site]

So the key point is this, Woolwich Arsenal were professionals before Tottenham, and entered the mainstream Football League (there being no Southern League).  Tottenham (as is there wont) trotted along later, having been rejected very clearly in the original meetings.  They became pros in 1895, and joined the Southern League a year later.

But why did Tottenham get just one vote initially? And why did they fail to get in, in 1894?  Of course it was because they were a little amateur club whose only claim to fame is that they played a local cup final against  the sixth eldest football club in the country and who claim to be the first ever club to play under floodlights in 1879 when they played Bedford.

What’s more, there was already a football team in their area – Leyton Orient formed in 1881.

When Tottenham played Woolwich Arsenal in 1898 they were playing a solid middle of the table second division team in the Football League – no wonder the crowds turned up.

In 1908 Tottenham joined the second division (by which time Arsenal were in the first).  Now skip forward five years and in 1913 Woolwich Arsenal moved to Highbury.  Tottenham Hotspur led the objections to Arsenal’s move – even though as the League and FA had both said time and again before, there is nothing in the rule books that allows them to dictate where a club plays.  Besides which if anyone ought to have an objection it was Orient.  The Os are the second oldest Football League club in London behind Fulham.

Besides, the argument against location was old and discredited, as Norris knew full well. Fulham had done much the same in objecting when Chelsea opened up in their quadrant of the city in 1905, and if anything the Chelsea issue was much more of a scandal – there was no club, no support, no team, no history, no background.  Just an old athletics stadium that was about to be turned into a coal dumping yard for the railways.

So the Tottenham protestation was all show and no substance.  They must have known there was not a single rule for them to object to.But they made a lot of it, not least to cover the fact that despite all their protestations, there was no way that they were not even a London team.  They were in Middlesex.  The Arsenal however was now in London – and Tottenham did not like that.

What’s more Tottenham had only been in the league for a mere five years – they could hardly claim the territory as theirs in just five years, even if there was a rule to allow them to.

The matter got worse when football resumed in 1919 after the war.  Tottenham had had one of their regular dreadful seasons in 1914-15 – the final season prior to war, and had ended up bottom, going down with Chelsea.

But after the war the league decided to extend the first division from 20 to 22 clubs.  They demanded their regular reward for failure, and expected to be kept in the league.   The clubs were required to vote – as they always were.

The Arsenal objected on the grounds that the deal proposed by Tottenham H hushed up the big issue of the 1914/15 season – the match fixing by Manchester United and Liverpool (Man U had fixed a game with Liverpool, and so ended up one point above Chelsea, and thus safe from relegation).

The Arsenal demanded that Manchester United and Liverpool be relegated to the second division, along with the two bottom clubs.  Tottenham fought the proposal, but eventually lost.   There were some behind the scenes deals and ultimately, in return for dropping the demand that Liverpool and Man U go down Arsenal got Liverpool’s vote and Man U’s vote, the league got its way, and Arsenal were voted into the first division.

Tottenham got annoyed.

For the record, Tottenham H went down and Arsenal, Preston and Derby went up, along with Chelsea who retained their position.  This was done through a secret ballot.

The reason Tottenham had once again got virtually no support was simple – they were a johnny-come-lately who were trying to make up rules to suit themselves.  It had always been the case that when clubs were ejected from the league, or the league was expanded, there should be a secret ballot.  For years and years this is how clubs came into the football league from non-league football until 1987.

So Tottenham’s argument against a secret vote (which ultimately resulted in them going out of the first division and Arsenal coming in) was ludicrous – expansion, and removal from the league was always sorted out like this, and would be for another 68 years.   This was the most outrageous piece of special pleading ever.

And yet somehow Tottenham have managed to write this period in history as if somehow Arsenal “stole” their place in the league.  It beggars all belief.

Worse – they have continued to do this.  And worse again through their friends in the media and elsewhere they have continued to be successful in undermining the good name of Arsenal.

I’ll explain how in the next article.

More on Woolwich Arsenal

Read the story of how Arsenal went bust, and rose from the ashes, 100 years ago, in the most amazing football book ever: “Making the Arsenal”

8 Replies to “How Tottenham have tried and tried again to stop The Arsenal”

  1. Just a thought that must also rankle with the spuds…this season, they’ll celebrate a Golden Jubilee of no championship. The crowing cock has developed a long term croak. Shame.

  2. So your premise of fair play is that Arsenal bribed manchester United and Liverpool to take their place in the top flight?

  3. Epocherry – I am not quite sure how my writing could you to that conclusion – but if I did, my apologies.

    Here’s a quick summary…

    Liverpool and Man U were involved in match fixing in the 1914/15 season.
    Norris of Arsenal, raised the issue at the AGM of the League prior to the 1919 restart of the league after the war, and demanded that both clubs be removed from the league.
    The League said that it would be wrong to start punishing players who had laid down their lives for their country during the war, and so nothing should be done.
    Norris said that this was inappropriate and that as a recruiting officer he could say that very few players were in that category. He argued for

    a) the bottom two to be relegated (including that is Tottenham who came bottom)
    b) Liverpool and Man U to be relegated for match fixing
    c) Six clubs to come up, to replace the bottom two, plus the two ejected, plus the two extra teams to expand the league.

    The League would not back down, and Norris said that in that case he did not want Arsenal playing in a league so heavily associated with corruption. He would remove Arsenal, and take them into a new Midlands and South League, and would invite other League teams and Southern League teams to join.

    This was not an impossible vision since the Southern League was exceptionally strong at that time.

    Liverpool interceded and said that they could help swing things so that Arsenal would be voted in if Arsenal would drop their attack on Liverpool and Man U. Norris agreed – hence the voting.

    If Norris is to blame in this affair it is through his backing down and agreeing to have Arsenal in the first division if Liverpool could rustle up the votes.

    But the corruption entirely was to do with Liverpool and Man U – not Arsenal and not Tottenham.

    The League followed the normal procedure of having all League clubs vote for the issue of who should be in the expanded league, as they had done each time before, and Tottenham lost out in that vote, not surprisingly having come bottom the season before. Chelsea got enough votes to stay in.

    A similarly odd pattern of voting can often be seen when clubs voted in or out the teams that came in the bottom two to four in the bottom division – those who had to apply for re-election.


  4. Hi Tony.

    Bit confused by this line “Norris said that this was inappropriate and that as a recruiting officer he could say that very few players were in that category.”

    Not sure how that ties up with the Footballers Batallion fighting (and many dying) in some of the worst fighting of the war, not to mention winning a couple of VC’s and some DSO’s. Indeed the guy at the centre of the manc/scouse bribery scandal, Jackie Sheldon, served with some distinction himself and was one of the players to have his lifetime ban lifted after the war.

  5. “a) the bottom two to be relegated (including that is Tottenham who came bottom)”


  6. I am actually fascinated together with your writing skills along with with the format on your blog. Is this a paid out design or do you customize it your self? No matter what keep up the excellent high quality writing, it really is rare to discover a fantastic weblog such as this one these days..

  7. Theyre JUST a cricket club from Middlesex
    Theyre JUST a cricket club from Middlesex
    maybe thats why the spuds are vexed..

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